What’s up with the federal hiring process?

So you’re interested in being a public servant. That’s great! The federal government can be a terrific place to grow and flourish professionally. It’s also an important way to contribute to both your community and your country. But what’s the secret? And given the current climate, what are your chances of getting a federal job?

There is always a bit of uncertainty when it comes to federal hiring. A number of years ago, it was expected that there would be many, many new openings in the federal government because of baby boomers retiring. That hasn’t really happened.

Then there was sequestration, neither the Democrats or the Republicans could agree on how to cut the budget, so automatic spending cuts went into place. It was anticipated that federal hiring would plummet. And while it’s true that only one federal worker lost their job as a direct result of sequestration, hiring did go down. But hiring was already on the decline as larger numbers were leaving the workforce.

Then came the hiring freeze, and people were even more anxious about what their chances are for obtaining federal employment. The freeze has since been lifted, but with the administration’s agenda of shrinking federal government, what does that mean in terms of you getting a federal job?

The trick is to not think about the big picture of federal employment. If you’re really committed to working as a public servant, think about where the most federal jobs are and what cities have the greatest needs, which agencies are hiring, and which fields are in highest demand. The easiest way to do that is to search for jobs for which you are a good fit, be completely open as to which agency you want to work for, and, if possible, be open to where those opportunities are geographically. For example, TSA has a hard time filling positions in Hawaii!

The Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) USAJobs website is a great resource. You can identify positions that are open to the public, special programs for veterans and for military spouses, opportunities for family members of overseas employees, the Senior Executive Service, information for individuals with disabilities, and more. OPM even offers events to help you build your resume, learn about opportunities, and strategies for interviewing for a position.

But don’t stop there. There are a number of federal agencies which are “excepted.” These are agencies that, for a variety of reasons, don’t need to go through OPM for their hiring and don’t follow the OPM process. These openings are not listed on USAJobs, so you want to make sure to go to their websites to learn about their opportunities. You can download a list of excepted service agencies here.

When people apply for competitive federal positions, they are rated “minimally” qualified, “qualified,” and “well-qualified.” Preferences will help you with the initial screening, where resume screening software is often used. Therefore you want to make sure you are using keywords and addressing all the competencies indicated in the job announcement on your resume.

Beyond this, your resume has to tell a story. Almost every position will have you fill out a questionnaire to make sure you are qualified. In addition to reading the job announcement carefully, read the questionnaire carefully. It gives you clues into the most important position requirements. Preview the questionnaire when evaluating a position for your fit and to help determine which key skills to emphasize in your resume. Think of STAR: situation, task, action, and results.

Make sure that you are demonstrating you can do the federal job by having your resume explain how you have already done it. For your positions and accomplishments, quantify what you did. Indicate the situation, the tasks, the actions you took, and the quantifiable results. That is because after your resume goes through the screening software, a human being will be looking at it, and if your words are just job descriptions or empty platitudes (“I’m a hard worker,“ “I learn fast,” etc.), then you won’t make the cut. And when you are answering that initial questionnaire, don’t be modest! Answer truthfully and generously with regard to how well you meet those competencies.

The best way to be competitive is to use common sense. Do read the position description thoroughly. Don’t apply for positions unless you meet the qualifications. Do have your resume tell a story of how you are a fit for the job where you quantify your accomplishments and outcomes. Don’t limit your resume to one page, unlike private sector resumes. Do continue to search for and apply for multiple positions. Don’t forget to track your application. Do take advantage of workshops offered by OPM.

And finally, do take advantage of the tools and resources on UMUC’s CareerQuest. The VMock resume review software can help you build a strong federal resume with quantifiable experience, while Resunate can help you match your resume to a position description to help you identify those keywords and competencies. And as always, feel free to reference the UMUC Career Services webinar library, where there are a number of webinars on federal hiring. If you need additional support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a career advising specialist.

Good luck!

Francine Blume is the assistant vice president for Career Services at UMUC. She is passionate about connecting the UMUC community to their dream jobs.